A leading psychiatrist in the 1920s identified potential developments in pharmaceutical products as the means to end all mental illness. There was a time when orthopaedics appeared to be a very limited specialty, before scientists came up with the artificial implant. Medicine continually confounds the soothsayers.
Labour market commentators spoke 20 years ago of seismic changes which would transform work. Change has been the watchword of the past generation in work, but not always as predicted.
The Work Foundation has just published 7 out of 10: labour under Labour 1997-2007, a very readable examination of the actions taken by the government towards work. It extends its critique back to the 1980s to establish what has happened and how well Labour has done for labour.
The King's Fund also produced its timely opinion on what it has been like for the NHS with its paper on achievements and challenges. In essence, the government set out to grow the workforce, delivered that growth, and is now being held to account for showing this will benefit patients. The virtual elimination of vacancies and dropping turnover is now a reality for most NHS employers. In the mid-1990s it was a pipe dream.
The Work Foundation points out that in the 10 years from 1986 total employment went up by 1.3m - with self-employment, temporary staffing, part-time workers and those taking up more than one job the fastest growing elements. The TUC discovered the UK was second only to South Korea in the proportion of workers feeling insecure.
The past 10 years have been markedly different and did not fit with what many were predicting in the 1980s. There have been 2.9 million more people in work - of which 75 per cent have been full time. Those in temporary work or taking second jobs are fewer. The net result is permanent workers are up from 78.9 per cent to 81.5 per cent. In summary, the 'proper job' has had something of a recovery.
Strikingly, the report notes public sector employment has gone up by 22 per cent in the past decade compared with 11 per cent in the one before that. That means 2 million more public sector workers when combined - quite an opportunity for trade unionism. Another transformation of the past 10 years is enhanced employment rights.
The 'opt out' from the Social Chapter has gone and legislation has proliferated to support union membership and individual rights. Dramatic changes have ensured a minimum wage, more holiday, maximum hours and making unfair discrimination illegal. Startlingly, a Department of Trade and Industry analysis claims UK workers are the second most satisfied in Europe, behind the Danes.
Prime minister Gordon Brown is now working on the nex phase of employment. The 'Warwick agreement' between the government and unions is being reviewed, the Leitch Review of Skills has established the 'skills pledge' and there could be more changes to protect workers. NHS employers have often led the way by putting changes in place before legislation - the test is now how to influence what happens next in the balance to improve services and develop labour.